Finding Christ in Spite of Hinderances

When I was a kid, my neighbors had a good climbing tree in their front yard and we would play with their kids for hours during the summer in that tree. Of course, the fear of breaking an arm was always in the forefront of our minds and kept us pretty close to the grounud. But I do remember one time I climbed up the tree until I could nearly touch the power lines that ran through the top of that tree. From there I could see most of the neighborhood. In Luke 19.1-10, we read about a short man who climbs a tall tree and finds a seeking Savior.

A Wealthy, Short Man

The Place. Jesus is still on the path that will lead him to Jerusalem. In the previous section (18.35-43) he was getting ever closer to Jericho. Now he is actually entering Jericho. Scholars debate about which Jericho this was: the original Jewish Jericho or the new Jericho built by the Romans. You can study that out and make your own conclusions. Never the less, Jesus enters Jerusalem and “was passing through.” He had no intention of staying there; he has a mission in Jerusalem.

The Person. Enter Zacchaeus. This man is described as “chief tax collector.” That is, he was the manager over those who collected taxes. He ordered which officers to go to which person and collect what taxes. No doubt he had used that power to skim a bit off the top for Luke says he was rich. It is interesting that in the previous chapter, Jesus has just explained about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom (18.24). In that same account, the rich man there went away sad but we will find Zacchaeus goes home joyful. But Jesus is a friend to tax collectors and sinners (7.34) and here is an account of just that. Also, here is an example of an impossibility made possible: a rich man enters the kingdom.

The Problem. Zacchaeus would like to see Jesus. There is, though, one big problem: he cannot see him for all the people pressing in around Him. Zacchaeus was a short man and with the great crowd of people surrounding Jesus, he was not able to get even a glimpse of Jesus. What’s a guy to do? His solution is to run ahead, a very undignified thing for a rich, chief tax collector to do, and find a tree to climb that was on the route Jesus was taking through the city and then he would see Jesus.

The Wise Son of Man

So here comes Jesus and Zacchaeus is ready…ready to get his quick glimpse of Jesus. Why did he want to see Jesus? v.3 says he just wanted to see who he was. What’s all the hubbub about? Just like most people, they just wanted to know. But something incredible happens. Jesus comes to the tree and stops. Then he looks up and addresses Zacchaeus. Think about that: these men (far as we know) have never met, he hasn’t been told this man’s name, doesn’t know him from Adam, and yet he calls him by name! “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10.14). He knows his name. But not only that he tells him “hurry and come down” (something Zacchaeus literally does in v.6, note the parallelism) because he must stay (literally abide) at his house. Some commentators say that Jesus is going to stay overnight with Zacchaeus. Possibly. But later in the chapter (v.28) it seems like Jesus just passes through. You can judge for yourself.

Nevertheless we see the inspired wisdom of the Son of Man in knowing Zacchaeus immediately and calling him by name. Zacchaeus catches this as well and receives Jesus joyfully! He is overjoyed that Jesus will be staying with him. However, not all is well. In verse 7, not some people, but all the people are upset and grumbling about Jesus being a guest in the house of a “sinner.” Again, He is a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” But Zacchaeus is undaunted; he stands up to make an announcement that everyone who was ever taken advantage by his tax police, he was going to reimburse personally four times what he took. There’s some good news if you were under his tax jurisdiction!

A Wonderful, Saving Message

Jesus hears this and has an announcement to make himself. While all these people are grumbling, Jesus teaches them about salvation. There is a change which has taken place in the heart of Zacchaeus. He did not realize it, but even with all his money gained by extortion, he was still poor because he was not right with God. And certainly as a Jew Zacchaeus was a “son of Abraham” and Jesus went to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 15.24), but Jesus seems also to be pointing toward Zacchaeus’ faith. It is Abrahamic in nature and is a saving faith for it is an acting faith.

Luke 19.10 is a key passage in Luke. In fact, it could be the purpose of the whole book. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (ESV). This is the mission and purpose of Jesus. First, we see the greatest missionary – Jesus, the Son of Man. Second, we have the greatest missionary journey – he came. That is, he came from heaven with all of its splendid privileges and prerogatives and came to earth. Third we have the greatest mission – to seek and save. Like a loving shepherd looking for even one, Jesus is searching and finding his lost sheep. Fourth, we have the greatest mission field – the lost. Every single person who has transgressed the law of God and marred their perfect image.

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The Blind Man from Jericho

I know sign language and have a couple of deaf friends. I have sometimes wondered what it would be like if I were deaf. I could probably manage but it would be a radical change, especially since I have been able to hear all my life. But blindness…blindness scares me. Even when I have to wear a blindfold for a game or something, I don’t like it. The ability to see is such a precious gift that we too often take for granted. Imagine you have spent your whole life is darkness. By the time you are grown, it is business as usual; you are blind and that is your life. In Luke 18.35, we find a man in just such a circumstance. He has probably been blind since birth. His world is darkness. There aren’t many jobs a blind man can do so he is forced to beg. And he lives in Jericho…one of the towns Jesus of Nazareth is passing through on his way to Jerusalem.

The sightless one

Matthew’s gospel tells us there were two men (Matthew 20.29-30). Mark gives us a name: Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46). There are any number of explanations for hamonizing this and you, O constant reader, can judge which is best. But here is a blind man, on the side of the road, begging. Get that: he was begging. He was asking for something, anything to sustain him for the day. And now here is a chance to hit the jackpot – a crowd. He can practically hear the Roman currency bouncing in their coin purses. But its strange…there is a lot of commotion from crowd; so much in fact this man has to inquire (and the Greek implies he kept on asking) as to what was going on. He is told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

It is interesting to note that the God we serve is a God who “passes by.” In Genesis 18.3-5 when God makes covenant with Abraham, Abraham asks God “do not pass by me.” In Job 9.10, Job in his affliction says the one who made the Pleiades and Orion is the one who “passes by me.” In Exodus 33.17-22, God, revealing his glory to Moses in the mountain, passes by the cleft of the rock. And here in Luke 18.37 Jesus is taking up that mantle as the God who passes by. Not wanting Jesus to get away without making his request, the blind man cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Notice, this is not just Jesus of Nazareth, but this blind identifies him as the one who was to sit on David’s throne and reign. He is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. And certainly, as Messiah, Jesus can show him mercy.

Note the criticism of the people. Luke says specifically that they were the people “in front.” The vanguard of the crowd had made to where this blind beggar was and they chided him for his audacity. It may have been for his appeal to Jesus Messiahship they chided him. Probably, though, they were much like the disciples with the little children; the master is too busy for a blind beggar. But this man, it would seem, knows that if anyone can help him even regain his sight, it is Jesus the Christ. So he begins to cry out even louder, perhaps even shrieking at the top of his lungs, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Nothing will hinder him from seeing Jesus (pun intended).

The Sovereign One

If ever there was a man of mercy, it was Jesus. He is our model of mercy. And the God who passes by, when he hears the frantic cry of one of his children, stopped (v.40) and commanded that the man be brought forward. The blind man (probably led by the hand) came near. I think of James 4.8a which says “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (ESV). What a picture here is painted of us, blinded by our sin and begging for mercy, draw near even as this blind beggar did and finding mercy incarnate. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v.41). Ever a servant, Jesus stood ready to do what they man, full of faith, desires of him. “Lord,” says the blind man, still appealing to his authority and sovereignty even over blindness, “let me recover my sight.”

You see the faith required for healing in the blind beggar. If he had faith but had not caused a ruckus, would he have been healed? If he had faith, but would not cry out to the one who could save him, there could have been no healing. No, the faith necessary for healing was a faith that acted. As James says, “Faith without action is dead.” He cried out and came near and thus Jesus speaks to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” There was absolutely nothing the blind beggar could to fix his condition, but when he cried out with faith to the Sovereign One with power to heal, he “immediately” could see the face of the Lord. He then became a disciple, a follower and glorified God, unable to remain quite about the great miracle that had been worked by Jesus. But this led to others who saw what had happened also praising God.

“I once was lost but now am found – Was blind, but now I see.Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1779

How Jesus Would Die

In the English Standard Version, the heading over Luke 18.31-34 reads “Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time.” It seems someone miscounted. In reality, Jesus has either directly stated or implied he was going to die upwards to six other times thus far in Luke. According to Leon Morris, Jesus as predicted his impending death in 5.35; 9.22, 43-45; 12.50; 13.32ff; 17.25. Not to mention in 9.51 he “set his face to go to Jerusalem” and has been making this journey ever since. At any rate, in these verses we have Jesus predicting his coming death.

The Messiah’s Prophecy

We are not given the occasion of this prophecy, only that the Twelve were with him and he spoke it to them. First, he says that together, he and the Twelve are going up to Jerusalem. Of course, as mentioned above, he has been making this trek for some time. But he drawing ever closer to his final destination. Second, Jesus says that everything written in the prophets is about to come to pass or be accomplished. In other words, prophecy concerning the Christ is about to find its end in Jerusalem. You think of all the prophecies in the Old Testament by prophets of God concerning the death of Messiah: Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 immediately come to mind. These graphic predictions of the suffering of the servant of God would find final fulfillment in Jerusalem with Jesus.

Now Jesus goes into detail about what exactly will take place and be done to him in order for those prophecies to be accomplished. First, he would be delivered to the Gentiles. This is the first mention of this fact but it is significant. The Jews had no authority or power to kill Jesus. Ultimately, it would be a Roman cross he would be hung and die upon. Second, he would be mocked. In other words, he was going to be made fun off, turned into a laughing stock. Picture a kid mocking or making fun of a sibling and you have the idea of what Jesus is saying and how he would be treated. Third, he would shamefully treated. Well, the mocking is shameful, but this goes even beyond that. Certainly verbal abuse is present, but also mistreatment in general which would cause a person to be outraged by what is happening. Fourth, Jesus would be spit upon. Personally, to the best of my knowledge, I have never been spit upon. But to be sure, it is a shameful and dispicable act. Most see this predicted in Isaiah 50.6. Fifth, Jesus will be flogged. The word that is used is the word for the Roman scourging. This is the beating that is given with the Roman flaggelum, a cruel instrument of torture that not only beat the flesh, it would rip into the flesh and tear it away. Sixth, he would be killed. Though he does not specifically mention it, the cross is in view. There is yet one more thing for Jesus to experience in Jerusalem: resurrection. Jesus calls his shot, too. It would be on the third that the tomb would be empty.

Each of these acts finds fulfillment in the Passion narrative: Delivered to the Gentiles (Matt 27.2); mocked, mistreatment (Matt 22.63-65); spit upon (Matt 27.30); flogged (Mark 15.15; John 19.1); killed (Mark 15.37; Luke 23.46); raised on the third day (Matt 28.1-10; 1 Cor 15.4). Seven different and distinct details predicted and fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a clear example of the supernatural at work.

The Disciple’s Perplexity

Now, we read verse 34 and think, “How in the world did they miss it?” To be fair, Jesus has talked in the past death in figurative langauge. For example, he talks about the disciple’s death to self (9.23-24) previously and that immediately following a context similar to this one in 18.31-34 (cf. 9.22). So to a degree, we might not want to be so hard on them. On the other hand, how in the world did they miss it? I mean the langauge is very plain and Jesus uses no uncertain terms to describe his future death and resurrection. When the text says “they understood none of these things” the idea is that they could not put all the pieces together, like a puzzle their puzzler could not properly ponder. But at the same time, there seems to be more behind the scenes in that these things were “hidden from them.” It was invisible or even kept secret from them. It was not the right time for them to fully understand everything Jesus is talking about, but when the time is right, they will see the picture clearly (see Acts 2). For now, it escapes their grasp.

The Rich, Young Ruler

My regular routine for Sunday afternoon following Sunday morning worship is to turn on the television and watch televangelists. *gasp* Yes, although I usually give them a bad wrap, I have to admit that I get some pretty good illustrations from them and every once-in-a-while they will say something worth writing down and keeping. Mind you, though, I have to wade through a load of garbage to get that gem. At any rate, although I should be used to it, I am always astounded by what comes out of these guys mouths. For example, just yesterday, one of these guys was saying how God does not want you poor and the reason this particular preacher “ain’t po’ no mo'” is because he began living his life according to the bible. Hmm…and in addition, he told everyone in the audience (a rather large crowd) that he doesn’t like being all alone on his mountain and told everyone they too can be rich by following what God says.

Now understand this: I do not think there is anything wrong with money. In fact, the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy in cattle, gold, and silver. But to me, this kind of preaching demonstrates the gross sin of the love of money. It was this attitude which Jesus condemned in the Pharisees (Luke 16.14) and I believe Jesus addresses this same topic again in Luke 16.18-30 with the rich ruler.

The Dramtic Dialogue with the Rich Ruler

A Hasty Query. Matthew tells us this rich ruler was “young” (Mt 19.20) and Mark tells us that he came running up to Jesus and knelt before him. He calls Jesus “Good teacher.” From what I can gather, this was not a term in regular useage among rabbis during Jesus’ time. In fact, as Jesus will point out, the reason it was not in use was because “good” was a term reserved for God (see Psalms 25.8, 106.1). So, did the youth in his haste make a mistake? I mean, Jesus has to set him straight right? More in minute.

Let’s examine the ruler’s question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a good question, no doubt a question many people were asking themselves and even today continue to ask. But the question for us, of course, is, “Is there really anything I can do which will cause me to inherit eternal life?” In actuallity, eternal life is not earned by us but instead is a free gift from God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6.23).

A Heavy Reply. First, Jesus addresses what the man has called him: “Good teacher.” He says God alone is good. Well, that we knew…but dig deeper here. Jesus is teaching this young man a lesson about who He is. The implication is that Jesus himself is God inasmuch as He contains divine qualities. Its as if Jesus is saying, “If you’re going to call me ‘good,’ at least understand what you are truly saying.” And dig a little deeper: the good God who can bestow eternal life to this young man is standing before him! If he truly understood the meaning of this statement from Jesus, instead of seeking self-glorification (which he does in a moment), he would beg for mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus’s response gets heavier in v.20: He answers the young man’s request for a list of things to do and not do. It is simply a reiteration of the Law. “Do not commit adultery” – so do honor marriage. “Do not murder” – so do honor life. “Do not steal” – so do honor other people’s property and merchandise. “Do no bear false witness” – so do love truth. “Honor your father and mother” – do not dishonor or harm them.

A Haughty Retort. As mentioned above, when Jesus implies his divinity in v.19, this young man should have been quick to humble himself. Instead, once he hears that he has been fulfilling the Law and earning his eternal life by his good works, you can almost see him coming out of his skin with excitement. He’s been doing these things. *phew* nothing new to add! But he fails to understand that there is something deeper at the heart of the Law which he has missed. This young man himself is not “good” – he has fallen short of God’s goodness by missing God’s standard.

A Hard Request. It was at the unabashed statement of self-righteousness that Jesus makes this difficult request of the rich young man. Jesus tells the man he still lacks one thing: “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” What Jesus is getting at is that there is one thing that is hindering this man from truly having eternal life: a love for money. Rather than leave everything and follow Jesus (as his Twelve had done, v.28, cf. Mt 19.27), he simply will not (cannot?) do this most difficult deed. Hence, he forfeits the eternal blessings of heaven for the momentary riches of earth. How many today do the same thing? Their greed for more stuff, their trust in their 401k and retirement plans…they have more faith in the dollar signs and stock markets of the world than in Christ. And when told what they need to do to have treasure in heaven, the true treasure, they leave sad becasue the price tag is too high.

The Deflated Discussion with Flabbergasted Followers

The rich young ruler is not the only one leaves the dialogue with sadness. This scene of a man who is more in love with his money and stuff leaving breaks the Lord’s heart also. But as sad as the Lord is and as heartborken he is over this one man, notice something very important: Jesus does not go after him. You almost expect him to run after the boy and embrase, and plead with him to come back. If it were a parent, you would expect the parent to try and bargain with the boy: “What will it take for you to come back?” Here’s the thing: Jesus Christ is Lord. As Lord he will not accept discipleship on just any terms; he demands true discipleship to be on His terms!

A Sad Remark. I imagine the following discussion between Jesus and “those who heard” him was deflated in that this sad scene has played out in front of everyone. This rich, young ruler does not want to commit and perform what is necessary in order to obtain true treasure; rather he is satisfied with the fleeting riches of earth. He does not have eternal life! And with these emotions filling our Lord he explains the situation: its hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, its downright impossible!

In v.25, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. A couple of interpretations have been erroneously postulated. For example, some say Jesus is talking about a camel squeezing down through a small gate; the camel would have to get on its knees and then just bearly make it through this gate. Other say the word for camel (Gk. kamelon) should be the word for cable (Gk. kamilon). Hence, it is a cable through the eye of a needle. Well, why can’t it be a cable through the small gate…then, we can remove the impossiblity completely, right?

A Shocked Petition. The key to understanding v.25 is in the people’s question which is “Who can be saved?” The recognize the impossibility of Jesus’ illustration: there is no way a camel can fit through the eye of needle (literally). It is impossible. Also, tied up in this question is the people’s understanding of how God works. To them, wealth is equated with the favor of God. This is not unlike our televangelist friends who preach “health and wealth.” The problem with this is that Jesus sent this rich man away still in a lost state. Hence, if the wealthy, who are supposed to have the favor of God, cannot get into the kingdom, who can?

Jesus answers this peition by explaining that with man, it is impossible for an camel to go through the eye of a needle and for a rich to be saved.m But with God…and we have seen this idea of all things being possible with God previously in Luke (see 1.37). Just as it is impossible for a virgin to conceive and give birth, so also it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven and camels to go through the eyes of needles. But when you add to all those equations God, suddenly the thing that seemed impossible now has the power necessary to accomplish it. Hence, Mary becomes pregnant and births Jesus, camels can start fitting through the eyes of needles, and rich people can enter into salvation.

A Sober Reminder. Ever eager, Peter wants to remind the Lord (and everyone else hearing) just what he and his Eleven friends have done. But I can’t help but think that as Peter is making this statement, it is really sinking in just how much each of the Twelve have sacrificed to follow Jesus. This rich, young ruler is a sober reminder that if anything gets between a disciple and Jesus, he will depart Jesus in a sad state.

But Jesus issues a blessing. To those who would leave everything and follow Jesus, whether wife, brother, children, whatever, they will get much more in return in this life and that which is to come. Once more, as seen elsewhere in Luke (ch.14), Jesus is trying to impress on us the importance of placing him before all other things in life. But when we love him fully, 100% we get a wonderful return in our investment: “every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus” (Eph 1.3-4). Not only, we exchange this worry-filled life, complete with sin and death for eternal life with God and Christ.